Ascension’s decision to install temporary pumps is questioned

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is looking into whether Ascension Parish needed to get a permit before installing temporary pumps at the Frog Bayou lock.

Earlier this month, parish officials announced they had installed pumps at the Frog Bayou lock and piping under Alligator Bayou Road in northwest Ascension Parish. The lock runs under Alligator Bayou Road and connects Frog Bayou with Bayou Manchac.

After complaints from residents and media inquiries, Corps of Engineers officials said they were looking into whether or not the parish needed to obtain a permit before beginning the work.

Ken Holder, a Corps of Engineers spokesman, said he wasn’t sure if a permit were needed, but inspectors were dispatched late last week to survey the scene.

“We took pictures, and we’re in the process of evaluating whether or not we have jurisdiction,” Holder said. “We’re working to determine that ASAP.”

After heavy rain in December, January and February drove up water levels in Bluff Swamp, Frog Bayou and Bayou Manchac, parish officials responded by bringing in pumps in an effort to move the water out of the area quickly.

The low-lying Bluff Swamp acts as a rainfall runoff storage area for an upper section of east Ascension Parish and is drained by Frog Bayou into Bayou Manchac. Meanwhile, Spanish Lake, which also is in the area, drains through Alligator Bayou into Bayou Manchac.

Michelle Gilmore, who lives on Manchac Road in St. Gabriel, located just across the Iberville Parish line near Alligator Bayou and Spanish Lake, said Spanish Lake basically is in her back yard now, and she blames the ongoing pumping.

When the water is higher in Bayou Manchac, the nearby floodgates at Alligator Bayou, which are operated by Iberville Parish government, can’t be opened. Gilmore said Ascension Parish’s pumping has kept water in Bayou Manchac high, backing water up to her property from Spanish Lake.

“It’s a nightmare, and it’s a mess out here,” Gilmore said.

Bill Roux, director of the East Ascension Gravity Drainage District, said because the Frog Bayou lock is considered a grandfathered structure by the Corps of Engineers and the pumps being used are temporary, there was no reason to seek an unneeded permit.

“The pumps are temporary,” Roux said. “They are leased for a max of 30 days or until the elevation in Bluff Swamp is low. The pipes under the road may — repeat, may — remain in the road. That will be determined when pumping is completed. The confusion came when it was discussed about keeping the piping in the road permanently. That is a possibility, not a certainty.”

Roux said parish government is paying a total of $40,000 to rent the two pumps for one month, and he doesn’t see the temporary pumps as a permanent solution.

It’s likely they would be used again only if the parish faces another scenario with “record rainfall occurring over several months,” Roux said.

“I don’t foresee this happening on a re-occurring basis,” Roux added. “We will evaluate the situation on a case-by-case basis.”